In a repeat of last year’s back-to-school bus chaos, a bus driver for scandal-plagued Prosper Independent School District got “lost” Wednesday afternoon with several young students on board, leaving parents waiting hours for their kids with no communication from the district.
The students attend Rucker Elementary, where last year district officials covered up bus driver Frank Paniagua’s arrest for sexually abusing two little girls on his bus, and their bus route is the very same one Paniagua drove.
With no help from the district on Wednesday, the Rucker students’ parents took matters into their own hands.
One Rucker mom tracked down the lost bus, stopped it, and called police.
She said Bus 63 was “going around in circles” for an hour and a half while the kids were “sweltering” and she was unable to contact the driver. That’s when she decided to follow the bus.
Rucker mom Eileen Riverside, whose kids were on Bus 63 and whose daughter also rode a bus driven by Paniagua, told Texas Scorecard the district’s bus-tracking app was not working on Wednesday afternoon.
Riverside’s husband used his daughter’s watch to find the bus, then picked up her and her brother where police had pulled over the bus. The kids had been stuck for over two hours with no air conditioning and no water in heat above 100 degrees.
“Mistakes happen, but this is inexcusable,” said another Rucker mom who has spoken publicly but prefers to keep her name private. Her child was also on the “lost” bus Wednesday and previously rode accused molester Paniagua’s bus.
She said her son and other children told the driver several times she was going in circles and tried to show her what streets to turn on, but the driver ignored them and never called for help.
“These 5-year old-kids knew better!” the mom said. “All while they continued to drive around for hours in this heat.”
She also said parents attempted to talk to the driver, but she would only speak to the police, and the officers would not allow parents on the bus:
Keep in mind us parents (after driving to an unknown location from a ping on another kid’s watch) were exhausted, anxious, and angry after standing in the 105-degree sun for over 2 hours with no idea where our children were and when they would arrive at the stop. The district did not even know where the bus was, they said they had no way of tracking the bus or where it was.
When the district’s transportation department finally emailed Rucker families about the incident, they said the bus driver was “new to the route” and had taken “a wrong turn.”
Parents report that the Bus 65 driver was back on the route Thursday with a bus monitor.
Prosper ISD experienced similar bus disruptions during back-to-school time last year, right before news broke about the district’s bus driver sex abuse scandal and cover-up.
“We are not perfect, but we keep trying,” Prosper ISD Superintendent Holly Ferguson told parents in an email explaining those bus failures—just one week before everyone learned what she already knew about bus driver Paniagua molesting students.
Ferguson and Prosper ISD are defendants in a civil lawsuit filed by the family of Paniagua’s victims.
Wednesday’s lost bus was not an isolated incident.
On Thursday, a parent of a Prosper ISD 7th grader reported that Bus 127-D ran out of gas on the first day of school, making the students late.
“The same bus hasn’t shown up and the kids are trying to stay cool in the gym,” she said.
Other Prosper parents complained about kids being bumped off their assigned bus due to overcrowding and elementary school students being dropped off at the wrong stops and left unattended.
In February, a McKinney ISD bus driver “mistakenly diverted” from her route with 30 elementary students on board and ended up in Allen, headed south on U.S. 75.